Mauled man’s family refuses to blame owner of dogs for wheelchair attack
HARLEYVILLE — Family and friends of an 80-year-old man who was fatally mauled by dogs as he rode around in his wheelchair last week gathered on his back porch Tuesday afternoon to comfort one another.
They described Carlton Freeman as a friendly man just about everybody knew. He had worked for the railroad, drove a dump truck for Dorchester County and regularly attended the area’s historic Christian camp meetings.
After he lost his legs to an infection caused by diabetes, he rode around in his electric wheelchair waving at neighbors, often letting children hitch a ride on the contraption.
He was attacked by four dogs near Spring Branch and Dunnings roads shortly before 3 p.m. on May 8. He spent several days at Trident Hospital and died Sunday morning. It was remarkable that he lasted as long as he did, according to Dorchester County Coroner Chris Nisbet.
“Upon my examination of Mr. Freeman, it is a wonder that this gentleman was able to hang on as long as he did,” Nisbet said. “He had bites and lacerations from his legs to the top of his head. This is very sad story, but even worse that Mr. Freeman was basically helpless to the attack, due to being a bilateral amputee.”
While family members described Freeman to visitors Tuesday, one woman sat just outside the railing with her head down. Barbara Goodwin, a neighbor, owned three of the dogs that witnesses say dragged Freeman to the ground and ripped him with their teeth.
Rita Freeman, Carlton’s wife, paused in her conversation and looked over at Goodwin. Her reaction demonstrated the spirit of this close-knit community.
“Are you all right, Barbara?” Freeman asked, inviting her to come up on the porch with the rest of them.
Goodwin stayed where she was.
“I’m still so upset about what happened,” she said in a low voice to a visitor. “Carl was a nice man. He was very close to my son.”
Goodwin said she didn’t get a ticket from animal-control officers but is expecting one for not having the dogs restrained. Her dogs had been roaming for quite a while but had never caused any problems before, she said.
Nobody in the community was blaming Goodwin for the attack. They say they believe her dogs jumped in by instinct after a fourth dog attacked Freeman and dragged him to the ground. They all described the four dogs as pit bulls.
Goodwin’s blood-splattered dogs, a mother and two pups, put up no resistance when Dorchester County animal-control officers arrived to take them into custody, according to the incident report. The fourth dog ran off in the woods and remains at large.
A young man was walking with a shotgun in his arms Tuesday afternoon near where Freeman was attacked.
“He’s looking for that other dog,” a neighbor said. Animal-control officers also have been trying to trap the renegade.
Freeman never blamed Goodwin for the attack, according to his daughter, Edna James.
“My father said she has so much on her plate (with her son in the hospital), the only thing I want is for them to get those dogs so they don’t hurt nobody else,” she said. “He didn’t want no animosity. I’m going to honor his wishes. We’re a small community, but we love each other.”
Mariann Boyd, a neighbor and Goodwin’s cousin, came up and gave her a hug.
“Everybody knows one another,” Boyd said. “That’s why it hurts so bad.”
William James, Freeman’s son-in-law, remembered how Freeman could clean a fish faster than anybody he ever saw.
Nobody ever expected dogs would be the end of him.
“He was a good guy,” James said. “He treated everybody like he wanted to be treated. ... Dogs?”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.